Italian constitutional referendum a 'vote on nation's credibility'
London: With just one day left for Italians in Australia to cast their vote on Italy's referendum, one MP has warned they may make the difference between reform and ridicule.
If the referendum, on moves to streamline lawmaking and reduce the power of Italy's upper house, fails, it could set off a political domino chain that ends with Italy out of the euro or even the European Union – of which it is a founding member.
The result is too close to call in recent polls, with the margin of doubt and undecideds greater than 'No's projected lead.
"Australia's vote could determine the overall result," says Marco Fedi, who has a seat in Italy's lower house representing Italians in Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Italy's opposition parties have – with some success – worked to frame the referendum as a vote of confidence in the government, and in the European Union.
But Mr Fedi wants voters to concentrate on the issues – not distracted by the politics.
"There is a lot of confusion that comes from Italy," Mr Fedi said. "It's so political - it has nothing to do with the issues at the core of the referendum.
"Very little time is spent talking about the content of the reform and a lot of time is used by attacking the Renzi government."
Mr Fedi is a member of the coalition government's Democratic Party and a supporter of prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Mr Renzi has said he will resign if the referendum fails. Even if he doesn't, early elections are likely – with his party badly trailing in the polls behind the populist, anti-Europe Five Star Movement.
But Five Star's opponents are expected to change election laws ahead of the election, to nobble the populists in favour of the centrists.
Matteo Salvini's Northern League, which wants to ditch the euro, is also polling reasonably well, as is former PM Sylvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, making an anti-Europe right wing coalition another serious post-election prospect.
But Mr Fedi wants the estimated 150,000 Italians expected to vote in Australia – among a total 4 million voters outside Italy - to ignore all that.
"All of the talk about Brexit, obviously some of the political forces in Italy are arguing in favour of exiting the EU, exiting the euro," he said. "But that's a political game that can happen any time.
"If they win government like Donald Trump did in the US, if the populist forces in Italy win government then anything could happen but that's got nothing to do with the reform we are talking about or the constitutional debate, it's a lot to do with the next election."
Mr Fedi said Italy's constitution has needed reform ever since it was approved in 1948, to make the political system less slow and inefficient.
At stake in the referendum, he said, is the credibility of Italy on the world stage. It has already promised these reforms to the European Union and to international institutions, and now it has to follow through.
"We need to change the constitution to have a more efficient form of government," he said. "There is an issue of credibility of the Italian political system being able to deliver on what it promises.
"If (the referendum) doesn't prevail we will just continue to be an incredible country with no credibility."
The referendum proposes to cut the number of senators from 315 to 100 and remove the Senate's right to hold votes of no-confidence in the government. It is projected to save the country 500 million euros a year and speed up lawmaking.
But some critics say it would give the government too much power – and others say it would be more likely to create an obstructionist Senate.
A No vote could trigger a crisis for Italy's debt-laden banks – though analysts say the risk has already been factored in by the markets, and the European Central Bank is ready with contingency plans.
'No' campaigners in Italy have threatened to sue if Italians abroad are the determining factor, saying their votes are more susceptible to fraud.
Mr Fedi said the initial proposal to improve representation for overseas voters had overwhelming support, and he thinks it ridiculous that it has suddenly become an issue.
But he admits Italy needs to review its concept of citizenship, passing from parent to child without limit.
The number of Australian Italians is dwarfed by, for example, the 600,000 Italians in the UK. In recent weeks leading Italian politicians have been flying to the UK to try to win expat votes
Italians registered to vote by postal ballot must get their ballots to the Italian Consulate by December 1. They will be flown to Italy and counted alongside the other votes this weekend.
The story Italian constitutional referendum a 'vote on nation's credibility' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.